In The News
Nov. 6 about far more than Obama
By Dominique Paul Noth
Editor, Milwaukee Labor Press
Posted October 24, 2012
When Mitch McConnell declared his party's main goal was to make Obama a one-term president, that was only the surface of the threats, and something of a preening posture. He was in the minority in the Senate and could only control financial legislation requiring 60 votes to move forward.
So he had to lean hard on the Republican majority in the House that took over in the excess fear of Obama combined with Democratic laziness at the ballot box in 2010. He counted on the House intransigence under Paul Ryan to create obstructionist policies to gridlock the government, encouraging a series of repulsive measures he knew would never be approved by the president or the Democratic Senate.
It was a guarantee of paralysis.
Now the undecided voters who generally distrust all politicians and didn’t follow the games that were played on this long road from 2010 may actually decide what happens this November 6, according to the pollsters. They are the perhaps 6% of the voting public least knowledgeable, the pundits say, about the nuances of policies or the record of the candidates and therefore most susceptible to the most outlandish television ads they don’t know are inaccurate. Actually they also include ordinary citizens just getting around to paying attention, though that is hard for the politically attuned to believe.
Still, given their likely distaste for all politicians and the entire process, they may be prone to blame the incumbent, or figure both sides are equally guilty of too much yelling and testosterone no matter who started it. They may even swoon for the new face in town who sure looks sincere even as his own operatives twist into rhetorical pretzels to explain how Mitt Romney keeps flipping positions.
But there are far more other voters that will determine this. While the pundits like to suggest gridlock equally splitting 94%, that’s not my impression from the streets. There are lots of voters out there who don’t like to be treated as unknowing sheep.
These voters include Republicans unsettled by what’s happened to the party their parents loved. There are citizens who in 2008 got caught up in the Obama fever and expected instant change, hence unknowing of the realities and disappointed at the pace. Whichever camp you look into you will find enthusiasm or the lack of it up for grabs.
What the current extreme Republicans Party never anticipated was how their own maneuvers would up-end their own traditional base and leave a distaste in the white male camp they depend on and the female Republicans they expect to once again go along to get along.
But all genders have noticed something unsettling, which explains the rise of the independents and the rise of the independent Democrats: Obama supporters unhappy with his efforts to work with the opposition now realize their attitudes could be misread by a hungry Tea Party and actually backfire. Moderates who were squeezed out of the GOP are deeply angry at the loss of some of their most respected leaders, from Olympia Snowe to Richard Lugar -- and the unsavory descent into extremism of politicians once noted for working with the other side.
The extreme right preened to excess, threatened independent thinkers in their ranks, embraced crazies like Florida's Allen West and wielded that unlimited outside money like a spiked club, turning off much of the nation while freezing the US House into inaction.
They underestimated the consequences. The right-wing has been greeted by hasty dismissal and internal rebellion by their own candidate. He felt compelled in the debates to push the Tea Party into the ditch, now that he has their money firmly in his pocket and they have no place else to go.
Romney has spent the last few weeks qualifying when not abandoning the most conservative stances and right-wing jingoistic promises that won the nomination, embracing Obama on foreign affairs, finding nice things in Obamacare, saying stuff that would have cost him all those primaries.
He declares his empathy with all women – but particularly those in the Mideast -- and closeness to such Obama principles as helping the middle class, supporting government-aided industry rescues and "protecting" the middle class.
The nation may not be ready for a president who will change stripes at will and say anything to win. But Romney knew it was not .ready for a right-wing extremist either, judging by polling numbers. And give the GOP political credit -- they chose the one guy who will say anything to sell. If that's the American central value, they’ve found their guy.
He confirmed it after defending for three weeks the expose of his 47% remarks. After first saying his remarks were "off the cuff" or "not elegantly stated," though correct, he went on FOX News the day after the first debate to say he was flat wrong in characterizing 47% of America as "entitled" dependents on government largesse, slaves to welfare thinking and not worthy of his attention. While apologies are always welcome, the timing in this case was so calculated as to be ridiculous.
More amazing has been the silence on the right as Romney runs away from them, but it's understandable. They so hate Obama that even Romney's blatant switcheroo was acceptable - they can work on him later. Nothing else can explain their refusal to support even common-sense proposals for veterans and jobs. They won’t help the country if it would also help Obama, and now they must watch their own candidate concede how often Obama was right.
Such reversal tactics can only work if the voters didn’t listen along the way or if they are so consumed by concerns about the economy that they forget the realities of history. A big reason voters went along with George Bush in 2000 despite his indifference to world affairs was they wanted a wealthy business type to focus on the economy. What happened? Foreign events clobbered Bush. That combined with questionable fiscal policy so much like Romney’s dragged that nation down.
Romney’s final debate not only revealed is sophomoric “me too” approach to the world but reminded America it could all happen again.
All this reinforces what the Nov. 6 election is really about. It is not merely, though certainly primarily, about re-electing Obama. The most powerful man in the nation is limited standing alone. He has already shown centrist tendencies and unlike Romney is reflecting principles of compromise and conferring he will not abandon. But he is open to being pushed to bolder action if the right people are elected to stand with him and encourage him. Romney would clearly be pushed by whoever is richest.
Obama needs a team of elected officials more committed to moving policies forward on jobs, energy and fair taxation rather than playing self-serving power games, cozying up to big lobby money and opposing everything that raises the middle class.
As things now stand, it is looking better not just for Obama to win but for the Democrats to keep and even improve their edge in the Senate. Wisconsin is part of that movement as Tammy Baldwin holds a polling lead over the GOP's reluctant and clearly tired primary survivor, Tommy Thompson, who like Romney blusters and bullies in early debates while pretending to moderation on the stump, knowing he can safely hoard all that money the conservatives can no longer take back.
Thompson has become so desperate that he is running ugly misleading ads questioning Baldwin’s patriotism while trying to disguise his own rapacious investment in Chinese and Russian companies doing business despite sanctions with Iran. Whatever Tommy once was, he is now the embodiment of the McCarthy era opportunist: “The time of the toad.”
A Democratic takeback of the US House once looked far-fetched, but as Obama swells his coattails make that possible. And Wisconsin may be a big part of that -- re-electing Gwen Moore, quite likely, and the more testy tasks though looking stronger daily of replacing Paul Ryan with Rob Zerban (District 1), Reid Ribble with Jamie Wall (District 7), and Sean Duffy with long popular Democratic figure Pat Kreitlow (District 8).
To reclaim the state Senate, the GOP and its outside groups have invested heavily in two races ignoring most other contests. They hope the combination of their own pointed redistricting and huge outside funding will defeat their prime target, a strong and personable campaigner Sen. Jessica King in the Oshkosh area District 18. They also want to switch to the Republican camp the District 12 seat of retired Jim Holperin, putting hard cash behind their tax-dodging candidate to destroy newcomer Democrat Susan Sommer.
Expect the GOP to pump big money into these contests, but despite the Supreme Court, money doesn’t vote, people do.
But while the GOP has been pre-occupied with those two contests, they’ve neglected what is happening in senate districts they have long felt comfortably red, such as District 20. There in terms of personality and "get things done" believability, Tanya Lohr is making surprising inroads over the much detested Glen Grothman, who took so much of the extremist brunt for Scott Walker during the Madison wars. But Grothman's manner has clearly turned off many who still go along with Walker and now are campaigning for Lohr. (The Milwaukee Area Labor Council represents most of that District 20 territory since it encompasses Ozaukee and Washington counties and has both union members and sympathizers working for Lohr, who has also been appointed a leader of the Washington County Democratic Party.) It would be a major upset – except to the voters who meet and talk to her. They know she’s better for the district.
Throughout the state as well as in the Milwaukee area, there are contests likely to weaken the Tea Party hold on the state legislature even if the GOP squeaks out a smaller majority in the Assembly. Citizens have stepped forward to challenge the Walker crippling of local communities, local classrooms and public workers and urge a more sensible way forward.
In the Milwaukee area, voters are seeing surprising inroads in such contests as Democrats John Pokrandt (Assembly District 14), Chris Rockwood (AD-13) and North Shore's Cris Rogers (AD-23). From Burlington to Brookfield to Green Bay and Dodge County, there are other contests for the Wisconsin Assembly where the GOP misjudged.
The maneuvers within the GOP, and Romney's desperate last-minute switch to the center -- abandoning what won him the nomination in the first place -- underscores two things for the public.
One, the GOP's idea of America is to win by any means, and they would govern the same way - which is not the historical image of the party or particularly good for the nation.
But the Republicans remaining will be fewer and those left know they must negotiate to retain any semblance of competence.
The nation's voters on Nov. 6 have a unique opportunity to either maintain a blockade against progress or end the gridlock and move forward. And the election will in any event demonstrate the real power of ballot box, the clout to watch the results, react and if needed step in again.